The Power of Critical Thinking

February 21, 2022 
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Kids are expected to learn so much by the time they graduate from high school: how to write a research paper, quadratic equations, World War II, photosynthesis, conjugating Spanish verbs, etc. It’s a lot of content, and often it comes with the question: When am I ever going to need to know this in real life? While having a broad base of knowledge and skills provides a good foundation for any student’s future, knowing how to think, or critical thinking, is not only an important academic skill, but it’s also an important life skill that will give young people the tools they need to succeed in their jobs, their relationships, and their role as citizens.

What is critical thinking?

Often it seems like education is all about receiving information and mastering skills just to parrot it back on quizzes and tests. Critical thinking, on the other hand, is less about memorizing content and more about asking questions in order to draw conclusions, solve problems, or make decisions. It involves breaking concepts or tasks down, evaluating evidence, applying logic, and using knowledge in new ways.

Critical thinkers are:

  • curious and open-minded
  • aware of their own biases and limitations
  • comfortable with self-reflection in order to adjust their behavior, change opinions, or adapt strategies to accomplish tasks
  • considerate of the perspectives of others
  • willing to put in time and effort to overcome confusion or clarify a complex issue
  • able to find, evaluate, and use evidence to make decisions and form opinions
  • good at applying knowledge and skills creatively

Why is critical thinking important?

Children who develop and nurture critical thinking skills become lifelong learners, problem solvers, and creative thinkers. With advances in technology, society needs fewer people with manual skills and knowledge of specific subjects and more people who are capable of sifting through vast amounts of information and interacting with abstract ideas. Critical thinkers with their open-mindedness, curiosity, and willingness to persevere and adapt in the face of new information or setbacks are better able to cope with a rapidly changing world. 

Critical thinkers also have the advantage when it comes to decision-making and relationships. Life can teach you the easy way or the hard way. A college student, for example, can learn that binge drinking is bad news when she gets in a car accident or she will understand the risks and drink responsibly. Or, perhaps, a young man can learn to be more open to listening and compromise in his relationships rather than go through a string of devastating breakups. Critical thinking can even help you be a better citizen. Knowing how to differentiate between fact and opinion as well as identify reliable versus unreliable sources helps individuals cut through the noise of social media in order to make good choices, such as making decisions about your health and electing trustworthy leaders.

How do you learn critical thinking?

It seems obvious that most of us would learn critical thinking at school, and if you have the opportunity to take more challenging classes with creative and dynamic teachers, then you probably will learn some critical thinking skills. However, parents can teach critical thinking, too. You can even teach yourself to be a more critical thinker!

Here are some ways to develop critical thinking skills:

  • Ask Questions. Ask questions that prompt reflection and evaluation instead of “yes” or “no” answers (e.g. What do you already know about that? Is there another way to think about this? Why do you think that?). Allow time to answer questions.
  • Seek out different perspectives and evaluate points of view. Make an effort to ask questions about the different sides of an issue, including weighing the strength of evidence and identifying possible biases.
    • Read for fun. Instead of just reading to pass a test or finish a project, set a goal to read more independently. Read works that challenge you, whether that means exploring topics outside your comfort zone or tackling a difficult text.
  • Set an example. Model critical thinking skills whenever possible. Share your thought process while solving a problem or making a big decision.
  • Talk through problems. A problem can be anything from how to tackle a big assignment to whether or not it would be okay to attend a party. 
  • Reflect. After completing an assignment or making a big decision, take some time to assess what worked and what didn’t. Identify any mistakes, noting any patterns, and make adjustments when necessary.
  • Offer support. Critical thinking isn’t always easy, so choose encouragement over judgment.

How A+ Can Help

Rather than focus on critical thinking as an academic skill learned in schools or a life skill learned at home, critical thinking skills can be integrated into all aspects of a child’s life. Tutoring can be a particularly powerful way to boost critical thinking skills because the one-on-one relationship between students and their tutors creates an environment ideal for asking questions and collaborative problem-solving. Tutors can also serve as critical thinking role models, showing students how to see beyond the content they’re assigned. 

A+ Test Prep and Tutoring offers academic tutoring for students who may need support with tasks involving higher order thinking skills as well as test prep tutoring for students taking the SAT/ACT who can maximize their score by boosting their critical thinking skills. Another great option is our Foundations programs that give rising sophomores and juniors a helping hand in specific subject areas to prepare them for both challenging academics and college admissions exams. 

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Director Joelle Faucette can be reached at 215-886-9188.

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